Saturday, November 29, 2008

'Saudi': Saudi Arabia & The Blogosphere

Ahmed al-Omran (b. May 30, 1984)

Ahmed al-Omran is a young Saudi pharmacy science student at King Sa'ud University in the kingdom's capital city of Riyadh. A native of al-Ahsa, the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, he pens a widely-read blog, Saudi, that was blocked by Saudi authorities in August 2006. Al-Omran, who chose his blog's name for the simple reason that he is a Saudi and likes wearing jeans instead of a traditional white thobe (ankle-length robes, which I favor when in the Middle East), writes commentary about political and social debates within the kingdom, as well as his own perspectives on issues ranging from freedom of speech and human rights to women's rights and youth issues. He has been blogging since May 2004, and writes in English. He also has an Arabic language blog. On his blog, al-Omran writes, "I keep this blog running because I want to be a part of the change that is going on in Saudi Arabia. I want to participate in the effort to push for more reforms, and I want to see this country become a better place."

When asked why he writes in Enlish, al-Omran responds, "English is the global lingua franca. It is the dominant international language, and writing in it allows me to communicate not just with my own countrymen and women but with the whole wide world. Moreover, I hope that writing in English could contribute to change many stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Saudi Arabia."

His blog has attracted the attention of the international media:

The Christian Science Monitor


BBC News

Recent posts include:

(1) "10 Must Read Saudi Blogs" [November 27, 2008]

(2) "Welcome to Riyadh" [November 25, 2008]

(3) "Shia Khums: Where's Our Money?" [October 28, 2008] *Amen.*

Thursday, November 27, 2008

!عيد الشكر سعيد (Happy Thanksgiving)

عيد الشكر سعيد
Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'm Reading......

By Jeroen Gunning

In Hamas in Politics, Jeroen Gunning launches a probing study of the movement's success in the political arena, showing that religion, violence, and democracy are not necessarily incompatible. Many of Hamas's apparent contradictions flow from the relationship between the organization's ideology, local constituency, and the nature of politics in Israel and Palestine. Gunning conducts interviews with members of Hamas as well as the group's critics and draws on a decade of close observation of the organization. He illuminates Hamas's understanding of its ideology and explores the tension between its dual commitment to "God" and "the people." Examining the group's political practice and what it says about the group's attitude towards democracy, religion, and violence, Gunning provides a unique window into Hamas's internal structure, revealing its process of choosing leaders and determining policy.

Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf
By Laurence Louër

The reshaping of geopolitics after the Gulf War and the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 had a profound impact on transnational Shiite networks. New political opportunities encouraged these groups to concentrate on national issues, such as becoming fierce opponents of the Saudi monarchy. Yet the question still remains: How deeply have these new beliefs taken root in Islamic society? Are Shiites Saudi or Bahraini patriots?

Louër's book also considers the transformation of Shia movements in relation to central religious authority. While they strive to formulate independent political agendas, Shia networks remain linked to religious authorities (marja') who reside either in Iraq or Iran. This connection becomes all the more problematic should the marja' also be the head of a state, as with Iran's Ali Khamenei. In conclusion, Louër argues that the Shia will one day achieve political autonomy, especially as the marja', in order to retain transnational religious authority, begin to meddle less and less in the political affairs of other countries.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jordan's King 'Abdullah Meets with the Iraqi Speaker of Parliament in 'Amman

The Jordanian king, 'Abdullah II, meets with Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, in the Jordanian capital city of 'Amman. Al-Mashhadani was born in Kadhimiyya, a predominantly Arab Shi'i district in the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad. He is a member of the Iraqi Accord Front, a mainly Arab Sunni party, and is a vocal opponent of continued U.S. occupation of Iraq. He is also known for his sectarian political leanings, and has led his Sunni Arab parliamentarians on several walk-outs of the parliament in protest.

FROM: جريدة بدر العراقية , Jar'ida Badr al-'Iraqiyya, the official newspaper of the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council, one of the largest and most powerful
Arab Shi'i parties in Iraq.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sadrists Stage Protests against Iraq-U.S. Pact

Demonstrators in Firdous Square, Baghdad, protest against a
deal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq until 2011. The protest was called for by Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr and was largely attended by tens of thousands of his followers, members and supporters of Tayyar al-Sadri (Sadr Movement). Al-Sadr is arguably the most powerful Shi'i Arab leader in Iraq today, a man whose day-to-day influence exceedes that of senior religious scholars, such as Grand Ayatullah Sayyid 'Ali Sistani.

Shias Stage Protests against Iraq-U.S. Pact

By Martin Chulov
The Guardian (Great Britain) [November 22, 2008]

Iraqi Shia protesters yesterday defaced and burned an effigy of President George Bush in a show of contempt for a deal struck between the departing US administration and the Iraqi government which will keep US troops in Iraq for another three years.

The protest, organised by supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, drew thousands of people to the central Baghdad square where a statue of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was torn down and destroyed five years ago by US marines and bystanders.

The demonstration followed a week of tension in the national parliament, stemming from a cabinet decision to approve the deal, which for the first time commits US forces to a departure date in 2011 and gives the central government a more dominant role in Iraqi affairs in the interim. A spate of apparent insults during debates this week led to several bodyguards bringing weapons in to the parliamentary chamber for the first time.

Iraqi officials took a first step to exert their new authority yesterday by warning all 172 foreign security companies operating in the country that from early next year their employees will lose immunity from prosecution for crimes they commit under Iraqi law.

The loss of immunity was a key sticking point for the White House during almost a year of protracted talks and has led several large security groups to consider leaving the country.

Baghdad motorists have long resented being forced to defer to western security convoys, which rule the roost on the capital's choked roads. However a series of shooting incidents over the past four years in which civilians were killed has led some contractors to believe that the new laws will be tailored to target them directly.

A security crackdown across central Baghdad yesterday heightened traffic woes during the three-hour demonstration. US forces were nowhere to be seen, with security solely in the hands of Iraqi soldiers. The Iraqi army is responsible for almost all checkpoints in Baghdad, as well as 14 other provinces.

Supporters of al-Sadr, among them members of the outlawed Mahdi army, provided an extra security ring outside Firdous Square, frisking protesters and scanning the rally from the roofs of nearby buildings. No incidents were reported.

The anti-western cleric was not present, but his supporters read a message he had drafted. "No, no to the agreement of humiliation," the speaker chanted to demonstrators waving green Shia flags and thousands of national banners.

"This crowd shows that opposition to the agreement is not insignificant and parliament will be making a big mistake if it chooses to ignore it."

The statement continued: "The government must know it is the people who help it in the good and bad times. If it throws the occupier out, we will stand by it."

The Mahdi Army has been stood down, but al-Sadr has threatened to mobilise its units if the deal goes ahead.

The Sadrists' opposition to the pact is in defiance of the approval given by a broad Shia bloc, led by prime minister Nour al-Maliki. The US-backed leader's Dawa party and the allied Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council are counting on a decisive win when the deal is put to the 275-seat parliament this week, which they will try to parlay into a strong legislative mandate.

The Shia bloc appears to have the numbers for a robust win. A weak showing would damage its legitimacy in any future deals and influence provincial and general elections due to be held next year.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hezbollah's Youth Outreach

Graduating Hezbollah Mahdi Scouts saluting during a graduation ceremony in August in Lebanon. Affiliations with Hezbollah can start young and touch all parts of daily life.

By Robert F. Worth

International Herald Tribune [November 20, 2008]

شكراً لصديقتي عايشة لإرسلت هذه مقالة

("Thank you to my friend Ayesha for sending this article.")

RIYAQ, Lebanon: On a Bekaa Valley playing field gilded by late-afternoon sun, hundreds of young men wearing Boy Scout-like uniforms and kerchiefs stand rigidly at attention as a military band plays, its marchers bearing aloft the distinctive yellow banner of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite movement.

They are adolescents - 17- or 18-year-old - but they have the stern faces of adult men, lightly bearded, some of them with dark spots in the center of their foreheads from bowing down in prayer. Each wears a tiny picture of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Shiite cleric who led the Iranian revolution in 1979, on his chest.

"You are our leader!" the boys chant in unison, as a Hezbollah official walks to a podium and addresses them with a Koranic invocation. "We are your men!"

This is the vanguard of Hezbollah's youth movement, the Mahdi Scouts. Some of the graduates gathered at this ceremony will go on to join Hezbollah's guerrilla army, fighting Israel in the hills of southern Lebanon. Others will work in the party's bureaucracy. The rest will likely join the fast-growing and passionately loyal base of support that has made Hezbollah the most powerful political, military and social force in Lebanon.

At a time of religious revival across the Islamic world, intense piety among the young is nothing unusual. But in Lebanon, Hezbollah - which means the party of God - has marshaled these ambient energies for a highly political project: educating a younger generation to continue its military struggle against Israel. Hezbollah's battlefield resilience has made it a model for other militant groups across the Middle East, including Hamas. And that success is due, in no small measure, to the party's extraordinarily comprehensive array of religion-themed youth and recruitment programs.

There is a network of schools largely shielded from outsiders. There is a nationwide network of clerics who provide weekly religious lessons to young people on a neighborhood basis. There is a group for students at unaffiliated schools and colleges that presents Hezbollah to a wider audience. The party organizes non-Scout-related summer camps and field trips, and during Muslim religious holidays it arranges events to encourage young people to express their devotion in public and to perform charity work.

"It's like a complete system, from primary school to university," said Talal Atrissi, a political analyst at Lebanese University who has been studying Hezbollah for decades. "The goal is to prepare a generation that has deep religious faith and is also close to Hezbollah."

Much of this activity is fueled by a broader Shiite religious resurgence in Lebanon that began after the Iranian revolution in 1979. But Hezbollah has gone further than any other organization in using this to build its own support base and to immunize Shiite youth from the temptations of Lebanon's diverse and mostly secular society.

Hezbollah's influence on Lebanese youth is very difficult to quantify because of the party's extreme secrecy and the general absence of reliable statistics.

It is clear that the Shiite religious schools, in which Hezbollah exercises a dominant influence, have grown over the past two decades from a mere handful into a major national network.

Hezbollah and its allies have also adapted and expanded religious rituals involving children, starting at ever-earlier ages. Women, who play a more prominent role in Hezbollah than they do in most other radical Islamic groups, are especially important in creating what is often called "the jihad atmosphere" among children.

As night fell in the southern Lebanese town of Jibchit , a lone woman in a black gown strode purposefully into the spotlight on a makeshift stage. Before her sat hundreds of Mahdi Scout parents, who had come to a central event of their young daughters' lives.

"Welcome, welcome," their host said. "We appreciate your presence here tonight. Your daughters are now putting on this angelic costume for the first time."

Munira Halawi, a slim 23-year-old Hezbollah member with the direct gaze and passionate manner of an evangelist, was the master of ceremonies at a ritual known as a Takleef Shara'ee, or the holy responsibility, in which some 300 female Scouts aged 8 or 9 formally donned the hijab, or Islamic head scarf.

For the girls, the ritual was a moment of tremendous symbolic significance, marking the start of a deeper religious commitment and the approach of adulthood. These ceremonies, once rare, have become common in recent years.

It was a milestone as well for Halawi, who had been practicing with the girls for weeks: she was now a Qa'ida, a young female leader who helps supervise the education of younger girls.

Halawi is in some ways typical of the younger generation of female Hezbollah members. She grew up after Hezbollah and its allies had begun establishing what they called the hala islamiyya, or Islamic atmosphere, in Shiite Lebanon. She quickly became far more devout than her parents, who had grown up during an era when secular ideologies like pan-Arabism and Communism were popular. She married early and had the first of her two children before turning 17.

As Halawi finished her introduction, the girls began walking up the aisle toward the stage, dressed in silky white gowns with furry hoods. Bubbles descended from the wings. White smoke drifted up from a fog machine. A sound system played Hezbollah anthems sung by deep male voices. The parents applauded wildly.

The two-and-a-half hour ceremony that followed - in which the girls performed a play about the meaning of the hijab and a bearded Hezbollah cleric delivered a long political speech - was a concentrated dose of Hezbollah ideology, seamlessly blending millenarian Shiite doctrine with furious diatribes against Israel. Through it all, Halawi was the presiding figure on the stage, introducing each section of the evening and reciting Koranic verses and her own poetic homages to the veil.

A few days later, relaxing over tea at her sister's house, Halawi expanded on the theme of the ceremony, still dressed in a black abaya. Religious education now begins much earlier than in her parents' time, she explained. Islamic schools, some run by Hezbollah, begin Koranic lessons at the age of 4, and it is common for girls to start fasting and donning the veil at 8. In all this, the mother's guidance is the key. "This is women's jihad," Halawi said.

From a distance, it resembles any other Boy Scouts camp.

But planted on sticks in the river, come two huge posters bearing the faces of Ayatollah Khomeini and Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah.

"Since 1985 we have managed to raise a good generation," said Muhammad al-Akhdar, 25, a Scout leader. "We had 850 kids here this summer, ages 9 to 15."

This camp is called Tyr fil Say, one of the sites in south Lebanon where the Mahdi Scouts train. Much of what they do is similar to Scouts' activities the world over. Akhdar described some of the games the young Scouts play, including one where they divide into two teams - Americans and the Resistance - and try to throw one another into the river. The Mahdi Scouts also get visits from Hezbollah fighters, wearing camouflage and toting AK-47s, who talk about fighting Israel.

The Mahdi Scouts were founded in 1985, shortly after Hezbollah itself. Officially, the group is like any of the other 29 different scouts groups in Lebanon, many of which belong to political parties and serve as feeders for them.

But the Mahdi Scouts are much larger; with an estimated 60,000 children and scout leaders - six times the size of any other Lebanese scout group. Even their marching movements are more militaristic than the others, according to Mustafa Muhammad Abdel Rasoul, head of the Lebanese Scouts' Union.

Because of the Scouts' reputation as a feeder for Hezbollah's armed militia, the party has become extremely guarded about the Scouts and rarely grants outsiders access to them.

"After age 16 the boys mostly go to resistance or military activities," said Bilal Naim, who served as Hezbollah's director for the Mahdi Scouts until last year.

Another difference from most scout groups lies in the program. Religious and moral instruction - rather than physical activity - occupy the vast bulk of the Mahdi Scouts' curriculum, and the scout leaders adhere strictly to lessons outlined in books for each age group.

Those books, copies of which were provided to this reporter by a Hezbollah official, show an extraordinary focus on religious themes and a full-time preoccupation with Hezbollah's military struggle against Israel.

The chapter titles, for the 12- to 14-year-old age group, include "Love and Hate in God," "Know Your Enemy," "Loyalty to the Leader" and "Facts about Jews." Jews are described as cruel, corrupt, cowardly and deceitful, and they are called the killers of prophets.

In the West, the image of Hezbollah is often that of its bearded, young guerrilla fighters. But Hezbollah's inner core of fighters and employees - its full-time members - is a far smaller group than its supporters. This broader category, covering the better part of Lebanon's roughly one million Shiites, includes reservists, who will fight if needed; doctors and engineers, who contribute their skills; and mere sympathizers.

In that sense, a more representative figure of the party's young following might be someone like Ali al-Sayyed. A quiet, clean-cut 24-year-old, Sayyed grew up in south Lebanon and now works as an accountant in Beirut. Hezbollah has offered him jobs, but he prefers to maintain his independence.

But his entire life has been lived in the shadow of Hezbollah. After school and during the summers, he was with the Mahdi Scouts. Later he became a scout leader.

He will not shake hands with women - and mentions his willingness to fight and die for Hezbollah as though it were a matter of course.

Yet Sayyed's generation is also in many ways more exposed to the temptations of Lebanon's secular society than its predecessors.

That shift is apparent even in Dahiya, the vast, crowded enclave on the southern edge of Beirut where most of Lebanon's Shiites live, and where Hezbollah has its headquarters.

Once an austere ghetto where bearded men would chastise women who dared to appear in public without an Islamic head scarf, Dahiya is now a far more open place. There are Internet cafés, music and DVD shops, Chinese restaurants and an amusement park called Fantasy World. There is no public consumption of alcohol, but the streets are thick with satellite dishes and open-air television sets. Lingerie shops display posters of scantily clad models, and young women walk past in tight jeans, their hair uncovered.

The café where Sayyed was sitting was typical. Hezbollah banners were visible on the street outside, but on the inside young people sit at aluminum tables sipping cappuccinos, eating donuts and listening to their iPods.

"Hezbollah tries to keep the youth living in a religious atmosphere, but they can't force them," he said, gazing uneasily at the street outside.

Sayyed mentioned Rami Ollaik, a former Hezbollah firebrand who left the party and earlier this year published a book about his indoctrination and gradual disenchantment. The book recounts the author's struggle to reconcile sexual yearnings with party discipline, and his disgust at the way party members manipulated religious doctrine to justify their encounters with prostitutes.

Hezbollah officials say they cannot coerce young people, because it would only create rebels. Instead, they leave them largely free in Lebanon's pluralistic maze, trusting in the power of their religious training.

But there is a limit to Hezbollah's flexibility. All young members and supporters are encouraged to develop a security sense, and are warned to beware of curious outsiders who may be spies.

After Sayyed had been talking to a foreign journalist in the coffee shop for more than an hour, a hard-looking young man at a neighboring table began staring at him. Suddenly looking nervous, Sayyed agreed to continue the conversation on the café's second floor. But he seemed agitated, and later he repeatedly postponed another meeting.

Finally, he sent an apologetic e-mail message explaining that he would not be able to meet again.

"As you know, we live in a war with Israel and America," he wrote in stumbling English, "and they want to war us (destroy) in all the way."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Importance of Academic Freedom


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Correction: The Salafis: A Brief Social History

Muhammad 'Abduh

The following paragraph in the newspaper article which I posted yesterday is a bit misleading:

"Salafists are rooted in a 12th century movement within Sunni Islam that argues for a strict interpretation of the Koran. Funded in part by conservative Sunni religious organizations in the Persian Gulf, Salafist mosques and teachings have spread quickly across the Muslim world."

The term "Salafi" was a term first used by Muhammad 'Abduh (1849-1905), an Egyptian Sunni Muslim jurist and religious reformer. He believed that Muslims needed to reinterpret religious social practices, morals, and rulings in order to adjust to the rapidly changing modern world. He was an advocate of the reasoned (re)interpretation (ijtihad) of religious texts, particularly the medieval Sunni legal books. 'Abduh was opposed to taqlid, the practice of imitating the practices of religious scholars (in Sunnism, generally done with historical figures, such as the founders of the Sunni schools of jurisprudence), however pious.

'Abduh also believed that modern Muslims needed to study science, mathematics, and technology in order to combat European colonialism, which was in its heyday in the Middle East during his lifetime. He argued that the "Salaf al-Salih," the pious first several generations of Muslims, were rational and practical in the practice of Islam. The term "Salafi" orinally referred to Muslim modernists like 'Abduh.

The Salafis of today have much more in common with Sunni religious scholars like the 18th century Najdi (Najd is a province in modern day Saudi Arabia) Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, who opposed taqlid of medieval jurisprudence and believed that the Qur'an and traditions of the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (Ahadith) were the key sources that should guide a Muslim's life. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab and his followers were strongly and vocally opposed to ecstatic Muslim mysticism (Sufism) and Shi'ism, mainly due to what they (the Salafis) saw as Sufis' and Shi'is' association of individual holy figures and places with God. Often called "Wahhabis," those Muslims who trace their intellectual origins back to Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab and likeminded scholars refer to themselves as "Salafis," since they see themselves as recreating the Islam which they believed existed during the time of the Salaf al-Salih, or "al-Muwahidun," roughly, "those who believe in Tawhid" (the absolute 'oneness' of God).

The most influential brand of Salafism today is that practiced by the official religious establishment in Saudi Arabia. Despite what is often written by Western journalists and talking heads (policy wonks) at "think tanks" (so-called), the majority of Salafis are not violent. The official Saudi religious establishment, which is made up of religious scholars at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and other official state religious institutions (mosques, universities, centers) refer to jihadi groups such as al-Qa'ida as the "errant groups," and have done so long before September 11, 2001.

Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University and a noted expert in Sunni jurisprudence, Zaydi Shi'ism, Saudi Arabia, and Salafism, gives an excellent talk at the Carnegie Council about the role of Islam, and particularly Salafi interpretations of Islam, in the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He is currently finishing two books on the kingdom and Salafism, one on the modern history of the kingdom and another on the spread of Saudi-sponsored and funded Salafism across the Muslim world. He has conducted in-depth fieldwork in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
View his talk HERE.

Read an excellent study of the divisions within the modern Salafi movement HERE. The author is Quintan Wiktorowicz, an assistant professor of international studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. He is an expert on Muslim politics in Jordan and has written extensively on Muslim radicalism in the West and the Salafi movement.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hariri Inc. & The Salafis of Lebanon; U.S. Media Finally Begins Reporting on Political Ties

In Lebanon, Puritanical Sunnis and a Reputed Playboy
Team up in Politics

By Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times [November 17, 2008]

The mainstream U.S. press is FINALLY reporting on this topic. I began posting, analysis and linkage, about Hariri Inc.'s ties to Lebanese Salafis, thanks to Hariri & Saudi government oil and construction money, billions of dollars, almost one year ago. Both Sa'd al-Hariri (Hariri Jr.) and the Saudis fear the growing power of Lebanon's Shi'is and of Shi'is across the Middle East.

See HERE for past linkage/commentary.

Reporting from Tripoli, Lebanon — When it comes to strange Middle East bedfellows, Lebanon's latest political partnership may be the most unlikely: The leader of one party has a reputation as a playboy with ties to neoconservatives in the Bush administration. The other group is widely viewed as a community of extremists whose puritanical strain of Sunni Islam inspired Osama bin Laden.

Lebanon's Salafists, often equated with terrorists in much of the Arab world, have teamed with Saad Hariri and his mainstream Future Movement to become part of the country's political order.

"They used to be very marginal," Benedetta Berti, a terrorism specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, said of the Salafists. "Now, they have to be taken into account by any political movement. They have become a significant political force. Not by number, but in terms of the political impact they could have."

The curious experiment, in one of the Arab world's most democratic political systems, could have implications for the rest of the region. In Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Algeria, Salafists are often tossed into dungeons.

"One of the main reasons Salafists join the jihadist . . . and terrorist groups is because of alienation and marginalization," said Mustafa Allouch, a Future Movement lawmaker from Tripoli. "They don't find any hope for expressing their ideas. It's better to accept all types of ideas and put them under the light so they don't grow in the darkness."

But some wonder whether the Salafists are evolving into a democratic political bloc or gaming the system to expand their reach and achieve their extreme goals, which include the radicalization of Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East.

Salafists are rooted in a 12th century movement within Sunni Islam that argues for a strict interpretation of the Koran. Funded in part by conservative Sunni religious organizations in the Persian Gulf, Salafist mosques and teachings have spread quickly across the Muslim world.

While most other preachers around the Middle East discreetly espouse their puritanical Salafist version of Islam at mosques or prayer groups, adherents in Lebanon are slipping into the mainstream. Sheik Mazan Mohammed openly proselytizes and rails against the political order as he sells spare auto parts out of his small shop in the Bab al Tabbaneh district of this northern port city.

"Politicians are ready to burn down the whole region to satisfy their own needs," Mohammed said. "Our role is to lead the community, to provide them with religion and spiritual support."

Like most of Lebanon's Sunnis, Salafists are largely staunch supporters of parliamentary leader Hariri, whose Future Movement is part of the U.S.-backed March 14 coalition of Sunni, Christian and Druze political organizations opposed to a mostly Shiite Muslim and Christian alliance backed by Syria and Iran.

Hariri has tapped the Salafists' grass-roots social and religious network and strong community ties as a means to build up his base for parliamentary elections in May.

But Hariri, son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, makes for an awkward fit for Lebanon's increasingly pious Sunni public. Although Salafists dream of reviving a medieval caliphate, the 38-year-old Hariri appears to be a liberal democrat.

"He doesn't really have any religious values they share," said Sheik Bilal Said Chabaan, one of the few Sunni clerics in Tripoli aligned with Hariri's opponents. "But they're getting money and benefits."

One cleric likened the alliance to the marriage of convenience between pro-business Republicans and the Christian right in America.

"It's the same here," said Khaled Daher, a leader of the Islamic Gathering, a Salafist political group that strongly backs Hariri. "We see Hariri and the Future Movement as the best political movement on the ground for now."

Salafists have long been a factor in Lebanon, but were cowed into silence during Syria's military occupation of the country, which ended in 2005 in the weeks after the assassination of the elder Hariri.

Rafik Hariri was considered the leader of Lebanon's political community, and in the jostling that followed the Syrian withdrawal, Sunnis clung to the political machine that son Saad inherited. Despite doubts about the younger Hariri's capacity to lead them, Salafists became a pillar of his political organization.

"There's no doubt that Rafik Hariri was a very distinguished person who had long experience in politics," Daher said. "I think that Saad Hariri cannot match his father's relations, experience and competence. At the same time, he has shown a lot of resilience."

In other countries, especially Bahrain and Kuwait, critics say, the Salafists are used by Sunni monarchies as proxies to keep down the aspirations of those countries' large Shiite populations. In Lebanon, Sunnis and Shiites are also locked in a political struggle, and fear of the powerful Shiite militia Hezbollah may have driven the Hariri camp closer to the Salafists.

But Hariri supporters say it's unfair to judge the Salafists based on their reputation as would-be terrorists or political tools in other countries.

"The Salafists we have in Tripoli have voiced their interests in being part of the republic, part of the state, which is unlike the Salafists in other places," the Future Movement's Allouch said. "As long as they accept to be part of the state and work peacefully in partnership with others, there's no problem with forming a coalition."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Imperial Myopia: Some Lessons from Two Invasions of Iraq

British troops enter Baghdad in 1917. The British promised that they did not come as occupiers...and then proceded to occupy Iraq until 1932, and the again from 1941 to 1947. In 1920, the British faced a series of major uprisings throughout the country. They used all available military force, including poison gas, to reassert their hegemony in the country.

Imperial Myopia: Some Lessons from Two Invasions of Iraq

By Peter Sluglett

Professor of History, University of Utah

The Middle East Journal
, vol. 62, no. 4 (August 2008): 593-609

This article tries to chart some of the parallels between the British Mesopotamia Campaign in the First World War and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both campaigns were justified by faulty or contrived intelligence; both were launched with little consideration of the future potential needs of the liberated/occupied territory; and both were characterized by a lack of planning and clear objectives. However, in spite of their obvious paternalism, several military and civilian members of the British-Indian expedition had a fair understanding of the Middle East, Arabic, Islam, tribal society, and so on; this sort of expertise was almost completely absent both among those planning, and among those running, the US invasion of 2003.


Peter Sluglett is a historian of the 19th and 20th century Arab Middle East, of the area which is now Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. His research focuses on political and socio-economic history, as well as urban social history in the Arab Mashreq and Egypt. He is a noted expert on modern Iraqi history and politics, and has written many books and scholarly articles on the subject, among them Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country.

U.S. troops patrol Sadr City, an Arab Shi'i district in Baghdad.
The U.S. and its coalition allies have occupied Iraq since March 2003.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Moving Beyond Orientalist Fantasy, Sectarian Polemic, and Nationalist Denial

Iraqi Arab shaykhs (tribal leaders), from the Sunni district of Adhamiyya and the adjacent Shi'i district of Kadhimiyya, meet as what they are, countrymen, at the 'Unity Bridge,' a bridge linking the two districts across the Tigris River, at a re-opening ceremony held today in Baghdad. The bridge has been closed since 2005, when mortar attacks by Sunni Arab insurgents, and rumors that suicide bombers were amidst a large crowd of Arab Shi'i pilgrims, created a panicked stampede which left over 1,000 people dead.

"This bridge is the symbol of the true spirit and solidarity of the Iraqi people," said Shaykh Salah al-Haydari, a religious leader fro
m the Shi'i district of Kadhimiyya, on the west bank of the Tigris River, which houses a major Shi'i shrine where two of the Twelver Shi'i Imams are buried. "It is a day of joy for the Iraqi people because we have shown to the world that we are one united people," he added.

Adhamiyya houses a major Sunni shrine, that of Imam Abu Hanifa al-Nu'man, the founder of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, one of the four major surviving schools of Sunni jurisprudence. The imam is buried inside the shrine. When the two districts were controlled by Shi'i and Sunni militias and insurgents, attacks from one district on the other, often in the form of rockets, mortars, and automatic weapons' fire, was not uncommon. The militias and insurgents have largely been driven out, thankfully.

Pensée 4: Moving Beyond Orientalist Fantasy, Sectarian Polemic,
and Nationalist Denial

By Ussama Makdisi

Professor of History, Rice University

International Journal of Middle East Studies
(2008), Vol. 40, No. 4: 559-560

The notion of sectarianism can be useful in understanding the Middle East. As in India and Ireland, sectarian (or communal) identities have been crucial to the elaboration of modern politics in many parts of the region. Unlike India and Ireland today, however, the Middle East is subject to American domination. The result is that the study of Middle Eastern sectarianism is extraordinarily politicized. As scholars struggle to study sectarianism in such a climate, they need to recognize—and, ideally, find a way to move beyond—several problematic assumptions.

First, the term “sectarianism” more often than not conjures up notions of age-old religious struggles that date back to the 7th century, if not earlier. That is because most people think of sectarianism as religion in violent motion and hence believe that the same religious struggles are reenacted perpetually over time. Rather than emphasizing the religious aspect of sectarianism, and thus encouraging distorted and historically untenable comparisons, we ought to put politics first in order to think of sectarianism as what it is: politics organized along sectarian lines. Instead of trying to come up with some universal theory of sectarianism, we should historicize and trace the evolution of specific sectarian arrangements, laws, institutions, and structures in the modern Middle East. Sectarianism, as I understand it, refers to a process—not an object, not an event, and certainly not a primordial trait. It is a process through which a kind of religious identity is politicized, even secularized, as part of an obvious struggle for power.

Second, and flowing directly from the first point, is the imperative that we as scholars of the Middle East unburden ourselves once and for all of the need to explain every instance of sectarian conflict as if it were in some way related to every other. The story we tell in the modern world is a modern one, not a medieval one. Those interested in the medieval world should not feel compelled to relate their research immediately or even necessarily to the modern. We would not for a moment ask a historian of medieval Europe to explain an American Protestant fundamentalist such as John Hagee from San Antonio; yet scholars who are medievalists by training (Bernard Lewis, RIGHT, is the obvious example) are repeatedly asked to comment on, and to draw connections between, the medieval Muslim world and contemporary Islamist figures. This medievalization of modern sectarianism confuses the ideological with the historical. It also conveniently ignores the crucial role of Western imperialism in shaping the political context within which modern bouts of sectarian violence in the Middle East have occurred.

Third, we should recognize that the problem with the traditional Orientalist paradigm of sectarianism, which began crystallizing in the 19th century and has quite literally exploded following the events of 9/11, is not that it has highlighted the discriminatory aspect of Islamic rule in the Middle East. There was indeed religious discrimination in the Ottoman Empire, and there are today real sectarian fears and hatreds. Rather, the Orientalist paradigm has mistakenly sought to naturalize Muslim–Christian (and later) Muslim–Jewish violence in the modern Middle East as an age-old religious feud rather than a modern political struggle. The problem with the Orientalist paradigm, even more, is that it judges—not simply analyzes—sectarianism in the Orient as something utterly unconnected to the West, something that had no parallel in the West, something that emanated from an Oriental or Turkish or Arab deficiency, something tied to an innate fanaticism absent in the supposedly liberal West. The Orientalist paradigm of sectarianism, in short, is suffused with assumptions not only about Islam, the East, the Ottomans, Lebanon, and Iraq, but also with a core assumption about the liberalism of the West. To criticize the Orientalist paradigm of sectarianism—to question the notion of religious violence as an expression of immutable and atavistic religious solidarities in the East—we must take issue with not only what it says about the East but also what it assumes about the putatively “tolerant” West.

Fourth, if Orientalists such as Lewis are promoting Orientalist fantasies of both the East and the West, nationalists—Arab or Turkish or Lebanese or Iraqi—have, in acute denial, proposed their own paradigm in an equally one-dimensional manner. Although Orientalists insist that sectarianism is an endemic condition, nationalists insist that sectarianism has no relationship to modern national concerns, that it has no basis in modern thought, that it is an anachronistic, unnatural force stirred up by an imperial will to divide and rule, something antithetical to national coexistence. In place of agency or responsibility, nationalists emphasize foreign agents and conspiracies.

In place of Orientalist fantasy, sectarian polemic, or nationalist denial scholars need to insert common sense. Our task is to understand and study manifestations of religious identity within specific local and historical contexts: how and why and in what context it has been mobilized, affected, transformed, and enacted. When it comes to the modern Middle East, from 19th-century Mount Lebanon to Mandatory Palestine to American-occupied Iraq, this often, if not invariably, means acknowledging the intersection between Western intervention and local aspirations. Sectarianism in the modern Middle East reflects a set of unequal choices made by unequal players. It is this unequal relationship that has so often created the problem we seek to study. To have any meaning to scholars, sectarianism as discourse and practice must always be historicized.

Ussama Makdisi is Professor of History and the first holder of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University. He is the author of The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (University of California Press, 2000). He is also the author of “Anti-Americanism in the Arab World: An Interpretation of Brief History” which appeared in the Journal of American History and “Ottoman Orientalism” and “Reclaiming the Land of the Bible: Missionaries, Secularism, and Evangelical Modernity” both of which appeared in the American Historical Review. Makdisi's latest book is Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East (Cornell University Press, 2007).

In Artillery of Heaven, Makdisi presents a foundational American encounter with the Arab world that occurred in the nineteenth century, shortly after the arrival of the first American Protestant missionaries in the Middle East. He tells the dramatic tale of the conversion and death of As'ad Shidyaq, the earliest Arab convert to American Protestantism. The struggle over this man's body and soul—and over how his story might be told—changed the actors and cultures on both sides.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Sectarian Middle East?

Pensée 3: A Sectarian Middle East?

By Eric Davis
Professor, Department of Political Science
and Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Rutgers University

International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 40, No. 4
(November 2008): 555-558

The problem of “Middle East exceptionalism” is perhaps nowhere as apparent as in the study of Middle East politics, particularly its purported sectarian nature. Our understanding of Middle East politics suffers less from the lack of empirical data than the poverty of the conceptual and theoretical frameworks through which it is studied. Unlike other non-Western regions, the Middle East continues to be analyzed through a conceptual prism that has changed little since the collapse of colonial rule.

The rise and institutionalization of Middle East studies did not ameliorate this problem. The ethnoconfessional model continues to thrive whether in the conceptual emphasis on Sunnis, Shi'a, and Kurds in Iraq; Muslims and Christians in Lebanon; Muslims and Copts in Egypt; Berbers and Arabs in North Africa; Turks and Kurds in Turkey; Sunnis and Shi'a in Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf; or Persians, Kurds, Azerbaijanis, ethnic Arabs, and a variety of other minorities in Iran. To what can we attribute the durability of this model? What impact does its persistence have on our understandings of Middle Eastern politics and the policy decisions made by powerful domestic and external political actors?

The ethnoconfessional model's most basic assumption is that Middle Eastern society, especially its Muslim component, is comprised first and foremost of ethnic and confessional groups whose loyalties are subnational (ethnic) or supranational (Islamist) in character. Hence particularistic identities trump nationalist commitments. From this assumption, it is only a short conceptual leap to the theoretical conclusion that the region's political instability and violence are a function of a defective political culture. The dominant conceptual portrayal of the Middle East is one of insular peoples who are unable to develop the necessary empathy, civic commitments, and “social capital” required of a modern nation-state. Conversely, authoritarian rule is a “natural” outcome of the inability of the region's nation-states (Israel and Turkey are exceptions to this model) to develop the values of political tolerance and pluralism. When the day is done, democratization lacks the necessary fertile soil, given the dominance of a parochial political culture shaped by ethnicity, “Islam,” and tribalism.

George W. Bush's November 2003 speech calling for the United States to support democracy in the Middle East notwithstanding, the ethnoconfessional model enables external actors, particularly the United States, to avoid taking responsibility for their contribution to the region's problems. Just as blaming poverty on African American family structure—the purported absent black male—allows white society to “blame the victim” rather than white racism, so too does constructing Middle East politics via ethnoconfessionalism allow Western pundits and policymakers to create a cultural hermeneutic in which the Middle East's ills become the sole responsibility of the region's peoples. Of course, such thinking serves the political needs of regional elites, all of whom benefit from a structure of political power based on vertical identities that works to undermine cross-ethnic and cross-confessional political cooperation.

The ethnoconfessional model's fallacies are most apparent in the concept of a “communal mind.” Older titles such as The Arab Mind, The Jewish Mind, Tribes with Flags, and What Went Wrong? are indicative of this concept's historical pedigree. More recent studies have posited notions such as a “dream palace of the Arabs” (do all Arabs really think alike?) or a “Shi'i revival.” Such monochromatic thinking parallels the ideological pronouncements of regional elites, such as Jordanian king Abdallah's positing of a “Shi'i crescent” (hilāl Shi'ī) stretching from Iran through southern Lebanon (but ignoring the problem that Syria's 'Alawites are not Shi'i).

Thus we see that, in both academic and elite circles, the idea that the Middle East's ethnic and confessional groups all think alike is alive and well and that culture, narrowly defined, constitutes the primary foundation in conceptualizing Middle East politics. Yet if a Middle Eastern scholar specializing in American politics were to argue that he or she could deduce an American citizen's political attitudes and behavior based solely on that individual's ethnic or religious origin, American scholars would find such an assertion bizarre, to say the least.

The idea that the Middle East's ethnic and religious groups march in communal lockstep is belied by changes in Lebanon's political landscape, in which former enemies during the 1975--90 civil war currently are allies, for example, General Michel Aoun's Maronite supporters and the Shi'i political movement, Hizbullah. In Iraq, for many analysts the quintessential repository of sectarian identities, violence is overwhelmingly intra- rather than interethnic. On the one hand, the Mahdi Army fights the Shi'i-dominated Iraqi Army and rival Badr Organization (the military wing of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council), while on the other hand al-Qa'ida and its insurgent affiliates are engaged in a struggle against the Sahwa (awakening) movement in Iraq's Sunni Arab areas. In Iraq's Kurdish region, intra-ethnic tensions continue to simmer between Marxist Kurdistan Workers Party guerillas and the Kurdish Regional Government.

The unidimensionalism of the notion of a communal mind is reinforced by that of “Islamic fundamentalism.” That major Islamist figures such as Sayyid Qutb, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi radically distorted basic tenets of Islam points more to an “invented religion” than a return to the fundamental principles of accepted orthodoxy. Advocates of “Islamic fundamentalism” largely ignore the fact that Islamist organizations such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood are experiencing internal power struggles between younger reformers (islahliyūn), some of whom are members of parliament, and older, more ideologically oriented leaders. Similar dynamics, in which younger Islamists argue for greater pragmatism and/or gaining power through electoral and nonviolent means, characterize Islamist organizations elsewhere, for example, in Turkey, Jordan, Morocco, and parts of the Arab Gulf.

In the study of sectarian identities, we need to recognize that, as the work of the political scientists James Fearon and David Laitin has shown, ethnically diverse societies are characterized more by cooperation than conflict. Further, all ethnically and religiously diverse societies experience communal tensions at one time or another. However, hostile feelings are conceptually and empirically distinct from ethnically or confessionally based violence, and the former need not lead to the latter. Even where such hostile attitudes exist, they are often crosscut by cleavages based in elite/mass, generational, educational, gender, regional, and/or social class differences.

The ethnoconfessional model has yet to grapple with the problem of weak states in many Middle Eastern countries. It fails to recognize the extent to which “sectarian entrepreneurs” exploit the political vacuum created by an absent state that is either unable or unwilling to deliver necessary social services or protect its citizenry. “Neighborhood effects”—the effort of powerful forces to thwart political and economic reforms in neighboring countries—are likewise ignored. Two of the more prominent examples of such effects are Saudi, Turkish, Syrian, and Iranian interference in Iraq and Israeli, Syrian, and Iranian influence in Lebanon. Finally, as previously indicated, the ethnoconfessional model continues to ignore political economy in favor of a narrow cultural approach. With 60 percent of the region's population under the age of thirty, often unemployed, and having little or no hope for the future, one answer to the problems of the Middle East is quite simple: use the region's massive hydrocarbon wealth to put young people to work. Such analysis requires little reference to constructs such as an Arab or Muslim mind or primordial notions of ethnic or confessional identities.

The ethnoconfessional model reflects both a comfort level that is “path dependent” and a degree of intellectual laziness. On the one hand, many analysts resort to the ethnoconfessional model because it represents the dominant framework through which Middle East politics has been viewed to date. On the other hand, it is much easier for analysts to avoid the political and socioeconomic complexities of the Middle East by reducing its social and political dynamics to those of innate or “primordial” sectarian identities. This unidimensional analysis fits the thinking of many Western policymakers who find that the ethnoconfessional model allows them to more easily “digest” Middle East politics and normatively avoid accepting responsibility for the West's complicity in impeding solutions to the Middle East's problems. A self-reinforcing cycle is created whereby analysts feed the proclivities of policymakers, whose thinking and decision making encourages further reductionist and simplistic approaches to Middle East politics.

In stressing the importance of ideas, we should not limit the focus to political forces that seek to spread sectarian identities: we should also highlight those that seek to promote civil-society building and democratic values. Why, for example, have hundreds of Iraqi journalists, academics, professionals, human rights activists, artists, and prominent entertainment figures been tortured and killed since 2003? These groups possess no militias, funds, or political power. What they do possess and propagate are ideas, those that promote cultural tolerance, political pluralism, and democratic governance. In an ABC/BBC poll conducted in Iraq in March 2007, 94 percent of Iraqis overall (and 78% of Kurds) rejected dividing Iraq according to sectarian criteria. In July 2007, Iraqis of all ethnic groups responded enthusiastically to Iraq winning the Asia Cup. Of most significance, the sectarian Kurdish Regional Government threatened Kurds who did not immediately lower Iraqi flags with imprisonment. That Iraqis are more openly expressing their rejection of sectarian political parties now that security conditions have improved not only underscores the constructed nature of sectarian identities but also the need for Western social scientists to recognize that positive developments are occurring in the region.

A social science that emphasizes only one side of the dialectic is deeply flawed. No society (or region) experiences only social and political decay without simultaneously experiencing regeneration. Middle East scholars need to step back from empirical research and engage in an extended self-examination centered on the conceptual and theoretical frameworks that currently dominate the field. The peoples of the Middle East seek democracy as much as those who live in the West. Iraqi democrats—betrayed by Bush-administration neoconservatives and attacked by insurgent groups and sectarian militias—provide just one example of many in which scholars of the region should be giving more support to those who are attempting to bring about positive change. Focusing only on the negative, such as sectarian identities, prevents that process from taking place.

Eric Davis is a Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University and the past director of the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. His research has included the study of the relationship between state power and historical memory in modern Iraq, the political economy of Egyptian industrialization, the ideology and social bases of religious radical movements in Egypt and Israel, and the impact of oil wealth on the state and culture in Arab oil-producing countries. Dr. Davis has been appointed a fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University; the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin; the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, Princeton University; the Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture, Rutgers University; and the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Peace Train

Back Then...1970s


To my mother, who introduced me to this music.

Friday, November 07, 2008

John McCain's Appalling Attack on Rashid Khalidi

McCain's Shameful Slur:
The Republicans' Appalling Attack on Rashid Khalidi

By Christopher Hitchens [November 3, 2008]

*Hitchens was a friend of the late Professor Edward W. Said of Columbia University, whose groundbreaking books included Orientalism, Covering Islam, and The Question of Palestine. Hitchens and Said co-edited the volume Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestine Question, which includes well-researched and well-written refutations of many founding myths of the Israeli state and the early Zionist movement, such as that of the "Arab radio broadcasts" in 1948. According to some accounts, Hitchens and Said had a falling out shortly before the renowned professor and literary critic's untimely death in 2003. However, this has not been verified publicly. Hitchens wrote a eulogy to Said and a commemoration of his life and work.

On the clouded synapses of Sen. John McCain, it became clear as his campaign limped and lurched to its close, the termites had been dining long and dining well. However much one might have admired the low comedy of his closing routine on Saturday Night Live, it had to be admitted that even in that context, he looked a trifle glassy and elderly, not to say lost. No doubt there was some safe refuge to be taken, by himself and his absurd choice of running mate, in self-deprecation. The true ghastliness, however, was revealed in the crudeness of the McCain-Palin attempt to deprecate others.

A few feeble cracks on a comedy show are not enough to erase the memory of a vulgar and vicious attack, mounted on a rival candidate McCain has publicly called "honorable," only a few days earlier. It had been said that Sen. Barack Obama had once attended a dinner for professor Rashid Khalidi, a distinguished Palestinian academic. It was further said that the Los Angeles Times, which had first reported the five-years-ago dinner in Chicago, was deliberately withholding a videotape of the evening that would show Obama in the audience while tough criticism of Israel was being voiced. Here is how the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States described the situation in a radio interview in Miami:

I'm not in the business of talking about media bias, but what if there was a tape with John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet? I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different.

I presume that in this fantastic piece of semicoherent Florida pandering McCain meant to imply the wearing of a neo-Nazi outfit rather than the membership of one, but it was hardly necessary for him to be so arch as to disclaim an interest in "talking about media bias." After all, his campaign maintains and accouters a running mate who will do all that for him and will furthermore read anything that is put in front of her (or, if it is a hoax call, will believe anything that is told to her) and who opined, on the same subject:

What we don't know is how Barack Obama responded to these slurs on a country that he professes to support, and the reason we don't know is the newspaper that has this tape, the Los Angeles Times, refuses to release it. It must be nice for a candidate to have major news organizations looking out for their best interests like that.

And it must be easy for a woman who couldn't, when first asked, name a single newspaper or magazine that she had ever read, to become such an instant expert on the press. It was last April when the paper disclosed the original event. Now it's being accused of covering up the event!

My main point, though, is not to call attention to the bullying and demagogy of McCain's attack. It is to observe how completely it undermines any claim on his part to foreign-policy experience. Khalidi has been known to me for some time and can easily be read and consulted by anyone with the remotest curiosity about the Israeli-Arab dispute. He is highly renowned, well beyond the borders of his own discipline, for his measure and care and scruple in weighing the issue. If he is seriously to be compared to a "neo-Nazi," then the Republican nominee has put the United States in the unbelievable position of slandering the most courageously "moderate" of the Palestinian Arabs as a brownshirt and a fascist. What then has been the point of every negotiation on a two-state solution since President George H.W. Bush convened the peace conference in Madrid in 1991? Nazis, after all, are to be crushed, not accommodated. One would have to think hard before coming up with a more crazy and irresponsible statement on any subject. Once again, it seems that McCain utterly lost his bearings.

I put the word moderate in quotation marks above because I dislike employing it in its usual form. Rashid Khalidi's family is a famous one in Jerusalem, long respected by Arab and Christian and Jew and Druze and Armenian, and holding a celebrated house and position in the city since approximately the time of the Crusades. I have had the honor of being invited to this very house. If Rashid chooses to state that he doesn't care to be evicted from his ancestral home in order to make way for some settler from Brooklyn who claims to have God on his side, I think he has a perfect right to say so. I would go further and say that if Barack Obama was looking for a Palestinian friend, he could not have chosen any better. But perhaps John McCain has decided that he doesn't need any Palestinian friends and neither do we. Perhaps he thinks it's all right to refer to refugees and victims of occupation, who have been promised self-determination and statehood at the podium of the United Nations and the U.S. Congress by George Bush and Condoleezza Rice, as if they were Hitlerites. How shameful. How disgusting. How ignorant.

One could go a step further and say that many Israelis have used the words apartheid and terrorist to describe at least some of their government's policies. In just the same way, one could note that Khalidi has clearly denounced violence when used by his "own" side, and also—this I remember very well from meeting him in Beirut in the 1970s and '80s—when employed by regimes like the Syrian. But somehow this evidence and this reflection has become beside the point. McCain saw a chance to deal a cheap and low blow, and he had the ideally ignorant deputy to reinforce him. The slander, after all, might get them through another news cycle and perhaps adhere some defamatory mud to their opponent. Who cares that it made the United States of America look thuggish and ignorant and petty in the eyes of any thinking person in the Middle East? Anyone who does care should be getting ready to vote against this humiliating ticket, a team that so farcically and horribly unites the senescent and the puerile.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"We Stand With," Jewish Voice for Peace Combats yet more Bigotry from the American Right

"I reject defamatory and vitriolic speech about Arab people, and especially those who are Muslim. My friend Majdi has been a guest in my home and I in his. We will not let hate divide us."

-Walter C. Bouzard, Ph.D.

-Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace Director of Chapters & Campaigns

"Peace - salaam - shalom"

-Dr. David Gaines

"In recent weeks, over 28 million copies of the virulently anti-Islam movie Obsession have been distributed to people across the country–including every pastor and rabbi in America; the words “Muslim” and “Arab” have become synonymous with “Terrorist”; and now many openly state that being a Muslim-American or Arab-American disqualifies one from holding elected office in this country.

A strong democracy requires a majority that stands up for the minority, refusing to remain silent when others fuel the fires of division and hatred. We are appalled by the recent escalation of demonizing attacks against Arabs and Muslims. These are attacks on people we are proud to call our neighbors, colleagues, loved ones and fellow citizens. As Jews and other people of faith, we know too well the price when others remain silent. To our Arab and Muslim friends, we say we stand with you."

-Jewish Voice for Peace



Thank you to Jewish Voice for Peace and all those who have stood up against the hate, bigotry, racism, and fear-mongering represented by the Clarion Fund's insidious attempt to sway the U.S. presidential elections by playing off of prejudice and ignorance in swing states. The Clarion Fund, funded by extremist right wingers (see HERE and HERE), had a public announcement of its support for Republican candidate John McCain on its web site before journalists started reporting this, after which the announcement was quickly taken down, as it violated the Fund's tax-exempt status (which has been challenged.)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rashid Khalidi: Will Anyone Stand for McCain's Final (Bigoted) Smear? (Unfortunately, yes, some will)

Columbia professor and well-respected (save for the likes of the ultra-right wing anti-peace process camp represented by the likes of Pipes and Kramer] Middle East expert Rashid Khalidi. An American citizen by birth, he comes from one of Palestine's most illustrious families. (This means that he is, OH MY GOD, an Arab (-American). If this is alone enough to frighten you, because you think "those people over there" (though he was born in the U.S.) are somehow born genetically different, you are a bigot.
You may convince yourself that you're not, but we all know that you really are.
Don't fight it. Accept it.

Rashid Khalidi: Will Anyone Stand for McCain's Final Smear?

"Daily Intel," New York Magazine [October 31, 2008]

As we wrote yesterday, John McCain has been fussing over the link between Barack Obama and Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi. The Los Angeles Times reported in April that Obama had some kind words for Khalidi at the latter's University of Chicago farewell dinner in 2003, but the paper has refused to release a videotape of the event because of a promise made to their source not to do so. It's already been pointed out that if speaking at a dinner for Khalidi is an offense, then McCain has some explaining to do for the hundreds of thousands of dollars granted to Khalidi's organization by the foundation McCain chairs. But that didn't stop McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb from pushing the story yesterday to CNN's Rick Sanchez and embarrassing himself in the process. Meanwhile, the backlash against McCain's latest addition to the kitchen-sink strategy is growing.

• Michael Dobbs awards the McCain campaign two Pinocchios for their Khalidi argument, labeling it "a case of guilt by association gone haywire." Whether or not Khalidi was ever officially a spokesman for the PLO "may be a question of semantics," but both President Bush and Secretary of State Rice "have had extensive dealings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is much more closely identified with the PLO than Rashidi ever was." Plus, as the Obama campaign pointed out, a foundation that McCain chairs gave a Khalidi-founded organization nearly half a million dollars. [Fact Checker/WP]

• Josh Marshall calls Khalidi an "entirely respectable, highly respected scholar," and McCain's "character assassination" is "ugly and shameful." Khalidi is simply being used "as a generic Arab, to spur the idea that Obama is foreign, friendly with terrorists and possibly Muslim." It's "an offense McCain should never be forgiven for." [Talking Points Memo]

• Matthew Yglesias contends that "we’re a pretty sick society where a person can be seriously accused of … being acquainted with someone (an Arab someone!) whose views on Israel are unpopular as if it were a hanging offense." [Think Progress]

• The Washington Post editorial board doesn't "agree with a lot of what Mr. Khalidi has had to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years, and Mr. Obama has made clear that he doesn't, either." But comparing him to a neo-Nazi, as McCain has personally done, "is a vile smear." If one wants to question why Obama felt comfortable "in the company of men whose views diverge sharply from" his own, it's probably because "Obama is a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position." [WP]

• Marc Santora and Elissa Gootman explore Khalidi's history as an academic and quote friends and colleagues who are taken aback by his inclusion as one of Obama's "radical friends." [NYT]

• Andy McCarthy tells the Times to check its own archives, in which it had referred to Khalidi in 1982 as "director of the Palestinian press agency, Wafa." [Corner/National Review]

• Hilzoy agrees that "comparing Rashid Khalidi to a neo-Nazi" is "beyond vile." McCain knows that "mentioning his name produces the effect it does because that name is Arab." McCain wouldn't have taken part in this "bigotry" a few years ago, and "in a few weeks, when he contemplates the shredded remains of his honor," he'll wish he hadn't. [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Andrew Sullivan suggests that the truth is out there, but "the complexities of a scholar's thought and record are not best explored in the heat of a campaign's final days." [Daily Dish/Atlantic]

• Joe Klein claims that the only bigot here is Michael Goldfarb, "who, if he's intent on calling people antisemitic — or any other epithet — should be required to provide chapter and verse, which he does not do on CNN." [Swampland/Time]

• Jeffery Goldberg calls Khalidi "a fierce partisan of the Palestinian cause" whose "sympathies frequently cause him to distort Middle East history." But he's not an anti-Semite, and in fact, he's "one of the rare Palestinian advocates who argues, as he has with me, that Arabs must study Jewish history, including and especially the history of Jew-hatred, in order to better understand Israel, and to reach a compromise with it." [Atlantic]

• Kevin Drum is challenging readers to try and come up with more slurs directed at Obama from the McCain campaign and its allies in addition to "anti-Semitic, Marxist, anti-American, a socialist, an extremist Afrocentrist, and a terrorist sympathizer." [Mother Jones]

• Ethan Porer suspects that McCain's accusations about Khalidi may be overly partisan for Jewish voters and could "further alienate" them. [New Republic]